Politics and Ideology in the Italian Workers' Movement: Union Development and the Changing Role of the Catholic and Communist Subcultures in Postwar Italy

By Gino Bedani | Go to book overview

19
The Changing Shape of Industrial Relations

The fortunes of labour movements are inevitably bound up with the fluctuations of economic cycles. Unions may attempt to create for themselves a role in society which protects them from the negative effects of such changes, but this is no easy matter, as events in Italy since 1980 have shown. Economically, although the early years of the decade were somewhat troubled, matters slowly began to improve. Inflation having reached its highest point ever in 1980 at 21.1 per cent, was later brought down to 8.6 per cent, but not until 1985. By 1989 it stood at about 6.6 per cent. 1 A growth rate of over 2.5 per cent in GDP was sustained between 1983 and 1987. Throughout the decade labour costs fell and productivity increased. Italian industry continued to diversify, to restructure at home, and to prosper abroad.

The state-holding sector, under the leadership of such individuals as Romano Prodi at IRI and Franco Reviglio at ENI, became more efficient. This was accompanied by the emergence of entrepreneurs like Gardini, De Benedetti and Berlusconi, all intent on capturing foreign markets. The most dramatic effect of the 1980s seems to have been the demise of the collectivist values of the late sixties and the seventies and an enthusiastic embracing of the enterprise culture. Commentators in the late 1980s talked about a new 'economic miracle' and of Italy as one of Europe's success stories. In 1987 the claim was made that Italy had overtaken the UK as the fifth most powerful industrial nation in the West.

Yet a question mark remained over the enduring nature of this achievement. Flexibility and flair are the typically Italian qualities which contributed to the economic revival of the 1980s. But some would argue that such qualities are not enough to bring about a permanent transformation in the Italian economy, whose lasting health is by no means guaranteed. As the 1980s drew to a close the public sector deficit threatened to run out of control.

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1
Statistics from Le regioni in cifre, Rome: Istituto nazionale di statistica, edizione 1990, tavola 17.18.

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